USG voter participation falls by nearly 800 votes

Karan Nevatia | Daily Trojan

Voter turnout to this year’s Undergraduate Student Government election dropped by 12.66 percent from last year, according to information released at the USG Senate meeting on Tuesday.

Compared to 5,411 voters in 2017, only 4,627 students cast their ballots in this year’s election. Debbie Lee and Blake Ackerman won the presidential election with 2,276 votes, representing 49.19 percent of total votes, while Mai Mizuno and Brianna Bozek received 2,161 votes, or 46.7 percent. The remaining 190 votes were abstentions. From Feb. 13-16, students voted both online and in person at various stations on campus, including a new polling booth at  USC Village.

“I chose to vote in this election because I wanted to do my part as an undergraduate in selecting who represents our values and desires best,” said Irene Lee, a freshman majoring in biological sciences. “I voted for Debbie and Blake because I really liked the feasibility aspect of their campaign as well as their motive to heighten [the] student experience.”

The three senate candidates who garnered the most votes were Diviya Gupta, Jacquelyne Tan, and Michaela Murphy, who received 1,532, 1,407 and 1,400 votes, respectively.

According to USG, the 4,627 votes make up about 24.7 percent of the total undergraduate student population of 18,710 as of Fall 2017. This level of voter participation is typical among other large universities, with UCLA achieving a similar 27.5 percent voter turnout in 2017, according to the Daily Bruin.

Despite turnout being in line with that of other colleges, over 75 percent of the student body did not participate in voting, with some citing a lack of awareness about the election and USG’s importance.

“I wasn’t really paying much attention to the election, which was partly due to me not seeing much of a difference between candidates or thinking the election was very important,” said Bryan Lew, a junior majoring in psychology and accounting.

To increase the voter participation rate on campus, USG decided to lengthen the campaign period by one week and the voting period by one day.

“One of the main things we did was increase the elections period by one week in order to give candidates more time to do outreach with students and organizations,” USG Senior Director of Communications Daniel Zhu said in an email to the Daily Trojan. “We also try to incentivize voting by having food trucks that we partner with and items that we give out during the elections to get people to vote.”

Zhu said that USG will continue to analyze this year’s election process to pinpoint areas for future improvement. Additionally, USG will continue to increase transparency with students to better highlight the critical role student government plays in the undergraduate experience.

“Every year, our goal is to have a higher voter turnout relative to the prior year,” Zhu said. “We will be debriefing the elections process in the coming weeks to identify factors that contributed to the lower turnout, so that next year’s elections can use our model and build it up even more from there.”

Eileen Toh contributed to this report.